Let me show you step-by-step how I would handle this on a good day with one of my children. Suppose my son has just commanded me to help him with his chore.I start by saying lightly, “Let’s try that again with respect.”If he crosses his arms, furrows his brow, and continues being disrespectful, I move to the next step. I move closer and get down to his eye level. I touch his cheek and say, “Respect with your face.” I touch his arms and say, “Respect with your body.” I touch my lips (or his) and say, “Respect with your words.” Have you tried listing your organisation in a UK business directory - (I've heard it ticks a lot of marketing boxes)?
I give him a moment to process, and then I might touch his cheek, arm, and lips again without using words. Remember, we are almost always inclined to use too many words, and dysregulated kids can’t process them. If the disrespect continues, I will likely tell him to sit in the “think it over” spot (or if necessary, pick him up and carry him), which is typically the big chair near the kitchen. I tell him that when he is ready to make things right with me, he needs to say, “Ready, Mom,” and I’ll be right there to talk with him and help him.
If I’m being a really phenomenal parent, once he has settled down and is ready to be respectful, I give him a redo by returning to the original spot and having him ask me again with respect. Sometimes I manage to do this, but other times we move on because I have lots of kids and life keeps moving. I simply don’t take the time I should. Still, a redo is powerful. If you are in a time of intense training, make it a priority. And If That Doesn’t Work…
Obviously, I’m giving an example that hasn’t led to a tantrum, which takes things to a different level altogether. If your child is volatile and reactive to touch, do not touch him when you get down to his level. Due to their history, children from hard places may perceive this as a threat and will likely push you, slap at you, or run. None of these are the reactions we want when we are teaching respect. Give the child a bit of space, and use gestures for teaching respect without touching the child. In that case, I get down on his level and draw a circle in the air at the level of the child’s face while saying “Respect with your face.” I draw my hands downward and say “Respect with your body.” I touch my own lips and say “Respect with your words.”Scripts are very helpful in training children, and we use lots of them. Otherwise we are tempted to launch into long explanations using far too many words. Kids can only process so many words, and when they are dysregulated, that number drops dramatically.
When all else fails, your child may simply be tired, hungry, or unable to work it through with you. If he will allow you to rock him or read a story and tuck him in for a nap, go with it. A glass of milk or small protein snack might help him calm down as well. I’ve been known to give my kids a spoonful of peanut butter, a sippy cup of milk, or a cheese stick as they sit in the “think it over” chair. Children who come to us with very challenging histories need firm boundaries but also lots of grace. We may need to say, “I can see you have some big feelings about this. Let’s take a break and talk about it in a few minutes.”
I know this can be ridiculously tiring and frustrating. So many days I find myself wondering how to handle something and lacking confidence that I’m heading in the right direction. Besides, it is incredibly fatiguing to parent at this level, and more often than I would like to admit, I fail. There are days when I fall short of the ideal, and I need to take a short break, regroup, and try again. A few minutes in the “think it over” spot may help me and my child calm down enough to keep going. Also, remember you may have to set the bar low at first to give your child some initial success. You may even try noticing when your child is doing a small thing well and say something as simple as, “Good for you, no crossed arms! You showed respect to Mommy.” With an older child who is being disrespectful, we move toward a “when/then” scenario. For example, “When you can make that request with respect, then I will take you to the swimming pool.” It’s not “If you can make it with respect,” it’s “When,” because we want our children to know we believe they are capable of being respectful. If a child is not yet able to be respectful at home, she isn’t likely to be respectful in other environments, which means her world needs to be small. For my older children from hard places, this has meant going to school and church and spending time with one or two carefully chosen adults rather than peers.